1. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    Sharing a Character Development Exercise

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by graphospasm, Sep 23, 2013.

    Hello, everyone. I’m new to the forum, so I thought I’d contribute by sharing my favorite character-building exercise.

    Whenever I find myself stuck with a character (new, old, or otherwise) I sit down and write about their morning routine. This exercise hardly ever makes it into the character’s finished story but it helps me learn about their personality and watch them deal with everyday challenges. I know it sounds simplistic and maybe strange to focus on a morning routine, but for me this works. In the morning you’re groggy and not thinking very hard. How better to learn about someone than when they’re being nothing but themselves?

    Here are some of the things I look at during my character’s morning routine:

    Does my character hop right out of bed as soon as the alarm rings? Or does he hit the snooze button fifteen times before getting up? From this detail you might learn that your character is a bit lazy or very motivated. Think about where they’re going and what’s on the agenda for the day. Are they organized, checking their calendar every five second and glancing at the clock all the time—or are they unconcerned with the day ahead, dreading going to work and dragging their feet?

    What do they do after they get out of bed? Does your protagonist shrug off a shower or do they meticulously bathe every inch of skin? What brand of soap do they use? Is it cheap even though they can afford better soap, or is it luxurious and decadent even though they can’t afford it? What does this say about a person? Do they get up and exercise? Do yoga? Watch cartoons? Immediately eat breakfast? And is this breakfast home-cooked and complicated or a cheap bowl of cereal? One of my characters ended up trying his dog’s kibble, an event I hadn’t seen coming at all. From this I learned he was curious, adventurous, and shameless.

    How long does it take them to do their hair? Do they spend hours in front of the mirror or do they let bed-head reign? This tells you if they’re fussy, laid-back, humble, or vain—even better if they think about outdoing someone at work with their looks, which tells you they might be vindictive or competitive.

    Does your character have to go wake up their children? Take out the dog? Read the newspaper? How do they react to bad news (or good news) when they see it? And how do they react when they glance at the clock and see that they’re running late?

    Throw in little challenges here and there, like a noisy neighbor or a broken toaster, and see what happens. Maybe their bus is late or their car’s battery dies—I don’t know. But I’ve found that the morning routine in particular has a lot of gold to mine and a lot of potential challenge. Everyone wakes up in the morning; use this commonality as a springboard for discovery.

    This works for me, of course, but it might not work for everyone. Thanks for reading; I hope I’ve shared something useful! What are your techniques for getting to know your characters? I’d love to hear!
     
  2. r3dfoe
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    r3dfoe Member

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    That is a completely fascinating strategy! I am going to try it. One of the things I do is drive around envisions my characters either driving or on foot and how they would interact with the environment and people around them. I do the same thing while walking. Its simple techniques that can really bring a character to life.
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I love this. Especially the bit about eating the dog's kibble. That's the kind of fun stuff you can do when you're writing and creating specific characters. I do hope that character appears in a story somewhere!
     
  4. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    Thanks so much! I love the walking idea; I'll try it out!

    Oh, that quirky little guy has made a few appearances over the years. :) I'm glad you like the strategy; thanks for reading!
     
  5. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    This is brilliant. I am going to use this. It's also a quite amazingly potent device for introducing characters to the reader as well.
     
  6. Flocka
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    Flocka Member

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    I really like this. This is also a great way for you to separate characters. One worry I have is trying to create separate characters in every sense of the word. I have read stories were characters are too much the same. Some times it works but other times I get confused.
     
  7. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I definitely haven't been reading the right writing books, because I've never heard of this...

    I tried your method with one of my characters. This cleared some things up for me, and has no doubt eliminated hours of inner torment. Here's a transcript from when my mind is unsure of a character's character:

    'I planned for him to say this, but he wouldn't use those words. How would he say it?'
    'Go away. I don't have all of the answers!'
    'I can't go away, I am you. Idiot.'

    It just goes on..
     
  8. Flocka
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    Flocka Member

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    I have this same problem!
     
  9. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I actually used to do something like this ALL the time. However, when I was a young, naive writer, it always ended up as the beginning of my story, which made for some very dull first chapters. haha! I completely kicked the habit, rather than moving it to a scene that wasn't a part of my manuscript. But I think I might get back into it (without the first chapter nonsense, of course). Thanks for this post.
     
  10. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    Flocka, Okon, Porcupine, I'm glad y'all're finding value in this exercise. :)

    Thornesque, I used to do the same thing. It took me a while to realize just how boring beginning with a beginning can be. Jump into the action, not the pre-action doldrums!
     
  11. BUDDY GORGEOUS
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    BUDDY GORGEOUS Active Member

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    I tried something similar a few months ago for a 'bad guy' in a story. I remembered reading about Hitler loving his pet dogs. How can a man capable of such cruelty have anything remotely close to love in his character? So I imagined my character, a particularly ruthless thief, having a meal with some girl and how would he react to every day conversation instead of 'on the job' conversation. I discovered a few hidden things and it surprised me. It's a very useful way to get to know your characters by applying them to certain situations like getting up in the morning or having a walk/drive around. Good post Graphospasm!
     
  12. SarahD
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    SarahD Member

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    This is similar to how I build characters, I know lots of little details about my characters that never make it into final piece, particularly the music they would listen to. I find it really helps make them real to me which I can use to make them real to other people, hopefully!
     
  13. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ha, nice idea :)

    I remember once including an early-morning routine of a "bad guy" in a story, just for fun. The idea actually came from a friend of mine, who had a satyrical radio show on daily politics. He used to end every story with "and now, if this guy annoys you, just imagine him having diarrhea, and is out of toilet paper" :)
     
  14. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    So, I decided to do this with one of my characters, who is a vampire (shoot me for it, go ahead, I don't care).

    It was actually pretty different, doing a "morning" scene in the late evening, when the character first wakes up, and it presents some rather different challenges. For example, the character isn't woken up because there's sunlight filtering in through the window. Rather, they must always be woken up by either an alarm clock, or a human subjugate who can tell her when the sun has gone down. She doesn't particularly like this (something I learned for the first time in this scene) and wishes that, for once, she could just be allowed to wake up on her own.

    After that, i went into a little bit of character reflection, but it was nothing I didn't already know about, so I pulled quickly out of said flashback and onto something different.

    Next, I showed a bit of mistrust from the character, even toward her own subjugate, because even though she'd been told the sun was down, she had to check for herself before leaving her room (opening the door while standing off to the side to see if any sunlight filtered in and then sticking her hand in the way, just to make sure). I knew she wasn't a trusting person, but I was shocked to see to what extent this reached. It's actually sort of inspired me to write a different scene, similar to this (a "morning" routine) but later in the story, after a certain event takes place. Just to see if this detail would change, ro at least be different with the other character involved.

    The character doesn't feed a lot in the morning - just enough to keep her under control - and knows that she'll drink more later in the day (this is pertaining to her line of work, which I won't get into here). She also only has one subjugate, which is unusual for a vampire of her station, and allows him to move freely in and out of the apartment, which is also rather unusual for subjugates in general, regardlessw of how many you have.

    After that, most of the rest of her start-of-day/night routine is just spent grooming herself, which was absolutely no shock to me, as she is somewhat vain and won't go out unless she knows she's perfect.

    So yeah. Fun facts. ^.^' Learned some new shtuff.
     

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